SAFE THIRD COUNTRY AGREEMENT SHOWN TO VIOLATE REFUGEE RIGHTS
Montreal. The Canadian Council for Refugees (CCR), Amnesty International Canada (AI) and the Canadian Council of Churches (CCC) today announced the filing of legal submissions in their challenge of the Safe Third Country Agreement, which largely closes the US-Canada border to refugees.
The submissions, which include an extensive series of affidavits from US experts, argue that the US is not a safe country for all refugees and that the Safe Third Country Agreement therefore violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as well as Canada’s international human rights obligations.
The concerns of the three organizations are echoed in a Harvard report released today, “Bordering on Failure: The US-Canada Safe Third Country Fifteen Months after Implementation”. Published by the Harvard Law Student Advocates for Human Rights & The International Human Rights Clinic, Human Rights Program, Harvard Law School, the report found that the Agreement “is endangering refugee applicants by denying them access to fundamental protections.” (http://www.law.harvard.edu/academics/clinical/asylum_law/)
“Before the Agreement was signed, Amnesty International made clear to the Canadian government our grave concerns over sending refugee claimants back to the US,” said Gloria Nafziger, Refugee Coordinator at Amnesty International. “The situation for refugees in the US has only deteriorated since then.”
“The Canadian churches feel a responsibility to ensure that refugees, who are amongst the most vulnerable in our society, are protected. We have taken the serious step of turning to the courts, because some refugees’ rights are not protected under the Safe Third Country Agreement,” said The Rev. Dr. Karen Hamilton, General Secretary of the Canadian Council of Churches.
The organizations also noted the non-publication of any review of the first year’s implementation of the Agreement, even though the Agreement commits Canada and the US to such a review “not later than 12 months from the date of entry into force”. The Agreement calls for the review to be conducted with the participation of the UNHCR.
“The Canadian government has made much of the fact that the UNHCR would be monitoring the Agreement, yet nearly three months after the end of the first year, we are still waiting for a formal reporting by the two governments on the UNHCR’s findings,” said Nick Summers, CCR Past President. “Meanwhile, refugees’ lives are being endangered. Next week, on April 4, we celebrate Refugee Rights Day in memory of the Supreme Court decision that refugees do have basic rights in Canada. In our challenge of Safe Third Country, we are calling on the courts once again to assert the rights of refugees.”
The legal challenge was filed on 29 December 2005 by the three organizations and an individual asylum-seeker in the US who is prevented from seeking protection in Canada by the Safe Third Country Agreement and who has no protection in the USA. They are asking the Federal Court to declare the designation of the US as a safe third country unconstitutional and in breach of international law. They are arguing that the US does not fully respect its obligations under the Convention Against Torture and the Refugee Convention and that by returning refugee claimants to the US for determination, Canada is violating its international obligations towards refugees and its Charter rights to life, liberty and security of the person and to equality.